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What Americans want from the next president

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Just down the sideline, Angie Coakley expresses views that are more recognizably Democratic – but she's not a Democrat. She's an independent who prides herself on voting for the person, not the party.

Ms. Coakley is a technology consultant from Sylvania, a town 45 minutes north. She is high-fiving other parents because her daughter's team has just scored another goal, making the score 5-0. Unless something changes, she sees a future for her daughter of uneven economic opportunity, in which the rich continue to gain more wealth while middle-class and blue-collar workers toil harder for less.

"The wealthy did fine during the recession; it was the middle class that took the hit," she says. "There is too much wealth at the very top. It's not fair. They need to pay a little more."

As for the size of government, Coakley says that she doesn't want there to be any more Washington than is necessary to protect the country, educate children, pave the roads, and sustain a social safety net. But the most intrusive government of all is the one that comes into the doctor's office.

She has no trouble compromising – "I do that in my job all the time," she says – but she won't budge on one issue: keeping abortion safe and legal, and giving women unfettered access to contraception. She wants to see federal funding for agencies that provide access to contraception and women's health services – like Planned Parenthood – sustained.

"There's talk of government getting too big," she says. "But you know what? The biggest type of government is the type that tells a woman what she can and can't do with her body."

Diners, drive-ins, and Angie Droden in Virginia

The breakfast rush is over at 29 Diner in Fairfax, Va. Angie Droden emerges from a back room to start her shift, bidding farewell to another waitress.

"Take care, honey," says Ms. Droden. "At least you get to go home."

Droden doesn't mind being here, but it's not what she wants, either. She's worked at 29 Diner on and off for more than 20 years. It pays her bills – barely. Health insurance is something of a dream to her. The last time she had health-care coverage was more than a decade ago, when she was on her ex-husband's policy. Everyone in America deserves to be able to see a doctor, she says, and not have to worry about it bankrupting them.

"There are people all over this country who work their tails off, like me, who can't afford to see a doctor," she says. "That's just not right and it needs to change. We got to find a way to do that."

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